Indirectly Speaking: Solution Providers Should Be the General Contractors of IT
The typical layperson is ill-equipped to vet and secure the right electrician, dry wall guy, plumber and so forth to build a new home. Enter the general contractor. They are there to cut through the chaos.
A reputable general contractor can be a godsend to a building project. (I know, I know, horror stories abound, but let’s go with positive thinking for a minute here.) The reality is that the typical layperson is ill-equipped to vet and secure the right electrician, dry wall guy, plumber and so forth to build a new home. Enter the general contractor. They are there to cut through the chaos. They navigate. They find the right people for your needs. They manage the process, and—if they’re worth their salt—save you a lot of headaches along the way.
In today’s cloud-based IT world, the general contractor metaphor aligns with the direction the channel is heading. As product margins erode generally and hardware sales decline specifically, the ability to offer or recommend a range of services and broker myriad solutions for your end customers is fast becoming your value add as a solution provider or MSP.
Consider a few data points from CompTIA research. Six in 10 of today’s channel firms say IT- and business-related consulting is their primary business model—not product sales. It’s not hard to understand why. IT is becoming more utility-like in how it’s procured, delivered and paid for. Roughly a third of channel firms say end users today are frequently buying technology products and solutions from the likes of Amazon, brick-and-mortar electronics outfits and local retailers like WalMart. Conversely, just 15 percent of channel respondents say customers are buying directly from them on a regular basis.
It sounds dire, but it doesn’t have to be. Customers today might be sourcing in new ways, but many need help vetting the plethora of cloud applications and on- and off-premise options that are available. Many need help integrating disparate solutions; still others have no idea if what they are implementing is secure. If you’re a solution provider, I think you know where I’m going with this. Someone needs step in and manage this chaos.
A friend of mine in the industry recently told me about a company that is dealing with an end customer that literally has hundreds of SaaS applications situated with different public cloud providers. That’s nuts. We’re talking different terms of engagement, execution and onboarding dates, rates, license terms and migration strategies. If I’m that customer, I want a general contractor, stat.
When cloud first stormed onto the stage five or six years ago, channel firms were apprehensive. At the time, hallway conversations were rife with gloom and doom talk. Will cloud put me out of business? Will my customers no longer need me as they source directly? Will vendors take their solutions straight to the end customer now?
Some of these fears are legitimate, depending on your particular business approach and willingness to zig or zag with the industry’s changes. But what has been refreshing is seeing that partners are coming around to their role in coordinating the many options for their customers, weeding out the poor solutions, elevating the solid ones and making sure the trains run on time. We used to describe solution providers as “trusted advisors” to their customers. That still holds true. But perhaps a better moniker today is solution provider as “general contractor” who acts as both an advisor and project manager.
Are you running your business like a general contractor? Write to me and let me know.
Carolyn April is senior director of industry analysis at CompTIA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org